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Phonics refers to a system of reading instruction that teaches children the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent. When students "sound out" a word, they are drawing upon knowledge of phonics to figure out the pronunciation of that word. Mastery of phonics enables children to learn to read with greater confidence and ease.

Phonics curriculum developed by the Institute includes workbooks and accompanying CDs that embed explicit and systematic phonics instruction in an engaging story. Instruction and materials follow a logical progression, from isolated letters to letters in words to words in connected text, or sentences. The curriculum is guided by three principles:

  • Phonics instruction is designed to supplement and reinforce what children are learning in school. This is an important function, as most children require a great deal of repetition and practice to internalize their knowledge of phonics patterns.
  • Phonics instruction teaches what is useful, but does not overteach. The English language is rich and complex, with an enormous range of phonics patterns. The workbooks teach only phonics elements that are useful to a beginning reader, those with the highest degree of frequency and regularity.
  • Phonics instruction is part of an integrated reading program. Students learning phonics need a lot of practice reading decodable text. This refers to text in which children can use their knowledge of phonics to read a significant majority of the words they encounter.

Preschool and Kindergarten:

While formal reading instruction does not begin until a child enters school, children learn a tremendous amount about reading earlier. For children in preschool or kindergarten, phonics curriculum developed by the Institute lays a solid foundation in three critical areas: phonemic awareness, letter recognition, and beginning phonics.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds, or phonemes, in the spoken language. For example, the word bat consists of three phonemes: /b/, /a/, /t/.

Research has shown that phonemic awareness is the strongest predictor of success in learning to read. Children who enter kindergarten with a high level of phonemic awareness generally have an easier time learning to read and learn more quickly. Phonemic awareness curriculum developed by the Institute focuses on initial sounds and rhymes.

Letter Recognition

Letter recognition is the ability to visually recognize and name the letters of the alphabet. Like phonemic awareness, letter recognition is a strong predictor of early reading success. When children are able to recognize letters instantly and automatically, it frees them up to focus their full attention on letter sounds, without struggling to distinguish between letters. Phonics curriculum developed by the Institute teaches letter recognition systematically, beginning with high-frequency consonants.


The beginning phonics curriculum developed for preschool and pre-kindergarten students teaches the relationship between an individual letter and the sound it stands for. For example, the letter m stands for the sound /m/ heard at the beginning of the word mouse. Phonics materials and instruction present letters in a sequence based on sound principles of instruction (for example, m and n are separated, as they sound too similar; high frequency letters are taught before less common letters such as j, v, z, etc.).

The emphasis for preschool and kindergarten students is on exposure, not mastery. Requiring mastery of any reading skill at this age places undue pressure on a child, and can undermine the whole enterprise by creating a negative attitude about reading. The Institute’s phonics materials are engaging and are designed so that children work at their own pace.

First Grade:

Intensive phonics instruction generally begins in first grade, building on the beginning phonics instruction in isolated letters and letter sounds children receive in kindergarten. The Institute’s phonics curriculum for entering first graders reinforces children’s knowledge of letters and sounds, and teaches students how to blend sounds into words. Instruction progresses systematically, beginning with initial and final consonants and short vowels and moving on to long vowels, consonant blends and digraphs, and easy inflectional endings (-ed and -ing). The curriculum also teaches a number of high-frequency sight words.

Second Grade:

In second grade, students face more challenging reading, with longer sentences, fewer pictures, and smaller print. They also encounter longer, more complex words in the books they read. Institute curriculum helps students meet these challenges and move toward fluency with instruction in advanced phonics and other word-attack skills and strategies.

Advanced Phonics Skills

Instruction focuses on vowel teams, r-controlled vowels and silent letters, as well as other more complex phonics patterns. Students apply skills in connected text throughout the workbook, including an ongoing comic strip that parallels the story on the accompanying instructional CD.

Word-Attack Skills

Word-attack instruction teaches students to divide long words into smaller word parts. Students learn common prefixes and suffixes as well as compound words and contractions. They also learn a simple decoding strategy that integrates phonics and word-attack skills.

To this day, people in many parts of the world lack the freedom to read.